How to Obtain a Certificate of Tax Residency in China for Expats and Companies

The Certificate of Tax Residency (in Chinese, “中国税收居民身份证明”) serves as a testament to the holder's tax status in China, offering a clear pathway for compliance with the nation's tax regulations. It is not merely a formality but a critical tool that facilitates the appropriate application of tax treaties, potentially alleviating the tax burden through reduced rates or exemptions on various forms of income.


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In this section, we will delve into the complexities of tax residency in China, highlight the significance of obtaining the Certificate of Tax Residency for expatriates and international companies, and outline the initial steps towards achieving tax compliance and strategic financial planning in one of the world's largest economies.

What is a certificate of tax residency?

The Certificate of Tax Residency emerges as a crucial document for expatriates and multinational companies. This certificate is a formal acknowledgement issued by the Chinese tax authorities, affirming that an individual or a corporation has met the requisite conditions to be considered a tax resident of China. Its primary role is to facilitate the application of tax treaties between China and other countries, including special administrative regions like Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan, ensuring that eligible applicants can avail themselves of preferential tax treatments under these agreements.

For multinational corporations and foreign nationals working in China, the certificate acts as a key to unlocking benefits outlined in double tax treaties, such as reduced withholding tax rates on dividends, interest, and royalties.

Beyond its role in tax optimization, the Certificate of Tax Residency cannot prove an entity’s legality. This certificate can only prove whether the entity is a Chinese Tax Residence or not.

The process of obtaining this certificate is provided free of charge under all kinds of conditions, reflecting China's commitment to encouraging compliance and facilitating international business operations. It underscores the importance of certifications and licenses in navigating the intricate landscape of China's business and tax system.

By securing a Certificate of Tax Residency, multinational companies, and expatriates not only ensure compliance with local tax laws but also strategically position themselves to benefit from international tax agreements, ultimately enhancing their operational efficiency and financial performance in the global marketplace.

Legal basis

The framework governing the issuance of the Certificate of Tax Residency in China is meticulously outlined in a series of public notices by the State Taxation Administration (STA). These legislative instruments provide a solid legal foundation for the process, ensuring clarity and consistency in determining and certifying tax residency.

The initial legal framework was established under the STA Announcement [2016] No. 40, which was subsequently amended by STA Announcement [2018] No. 31. These documents collectively set forth the procedures and requirements for the issuance of the Certificate of Tax Residency, delineating the eligibility criteria for individuals and entities seeking to certify their tax resident status in China. They specify the documentation required, the application process, and the conditions under which the certificate can be granted, ensuring that applicants are well-informed of the statutory requirements.

Further refinement and clarification of the rules surrounding the Certificate of Tax Residency were provided in STA Announcement [2019] No. 17. This notice revised matters relevant to the certification process, updating previous guidelines to reflect the evolving nature of tax law and administration in China. It addresses the practical aspects of applying for and obtaining the certificate, ensuring the process aligns with international standards and practices.

Eligibility requirements

For individuals

  • Domicile in China: An individual is considered a tax resident if they have habitual residence in China due to domiciliary registration, family ties, or economic interests.
  • Duration of residence: Individuals without a domicile in China can qualify as tax residents if they reside in China for more than 183 days in a tax year (January 1 to December 31).
  • Habitual residence: this legal concept emphasises the intention to reside in China regularly, beyond mere physical presence.

For companies

  • Place of incorporation and effective management: A company is considered a tax resident if it is incorporated under Chinese law or has its effective management in China, regardless of the place of incorporation.
    • Effective management: Effective management is characterized by the exercise of overall control over business operations, personnel, accounting, and property management.
    • Enterprise income tax law: Entities with actual management offices in China are treated the same as those incorporated in China, highlighting the significance of management's location in tax residency status.
    • Sole proprietorships and partnerships: These are not recognized as separate taxable entities. Tax obligations fall on the individuals or partners involved.

Application process

Compliance and documentation

The process to apply for a Certificate of Tax Residency involves compiling a comprehensive set of documents, tailored to the specific needs of individuals and companies.

For individuals:

  • Completed application form.
  • Passport copies, alongside the original.
  • Documents evidencing days of residence in the PRC.
  • Additional documents as requested by the tax authority.

Applicant Type

Required Documents


Application for a Certificate of Chinese Fiscal Resident form


Supporting documents related to the income eligible for tax treaty treatments (e.g., contracts, agreements, resolutions by the board of directors/shareholders, relevant payment documents)

Individuals with domicile in China

Supporting documents including the applicant’s identity and domicile information

Individuals without domicile in China but residing for at least 183 days in a tax year

Supporting documents demonstrating actual residence status in China (e.g., records of exit and entry)

Domestic or foreign branch through its head office

Supporting documents demonstrating the registration status of the head office and branch

Chinese resident partner of a partnership

Registration status of the partnership

 For companies:

  • Application form.
  • Business license. 
  • Supporting documents for income eligible for tax treaty benefits, including contracts, agreements, and payment records.

 General documentation requirements:

  • Detailed application for a certificate of Chinese fiscal residency.
  • Supporting documents for income eligible for tax treaty benefits, including contracts, agreements, and payment records.
  • For non-domiciled individuals who have resided in China for over 183 days, documents proving physical presence in China, such as entry and exit records.
  • For branches, registration documents are required from both the head office and the branch.
  • For partnerships, registration status is when a Chinese resident partner applies.
  • A certified translation must accompany any document that is not in Chinese.

 Record-keeping and compliance tips

  • Maintain comprehensive records: Keeping detailed and organized records of all documents related to tax payments, contracts, and residency status is crucial. This not only facilitates the application process for the tax residency certificate but also prepares you for any potential audits.
  • Understand the requirements: Familiarize yourself with the specific documentation requirements for your status—whether as an individual or a company. Knowing what documents to gather ahead of time can significantly streamline the application process.
  • Seek professional guidance: Engaging with tax professionals or legal advisors who specialize in Chinese tax regulations can provide invaluable assistance in ensuring compliance and optimizing your tax position.
  • Stay updated: Tax laws and regulatory requirements can evolve. Staying informed of any changes in the legal landscape is essential to remain compliant and take advantage of any new benefits or obligations.
  • Prepare for additional requests: The tax authority may request further documentation in complex cases. Being prepared to provide additional information promptly can expedite the review process.
  • Translation and accuracy: Ensure all foreign documents are accurately translated into Chinese. Accuracy in both the original and translated documents is paramount to avoid delays or rejections of your application.


Here's a comparison table summarizing the application process for a Certificate of Tax Residency for both expatriate employees and foreign companies:


Expatriate Employees

Foreign Companies

Where to file the application

The county-level tax authority is responsible for the applicant's income tax.

Through the head office in China to the competent tax authority of the head office. For partnerships, the Chinese resident partner applies with the competent tax authority.

Required documents

  • Completed application form.
  • Copy and original of the passport.
  • Original PRC individual income tax payment receipts or a written explanation if unavailable. 
  • Documents supporting PRC residence days.
  • Documents for non-domiciled individuals residing more than 183 days in a tax year.
  • Any other documents requested by the tax authority.
  • Application form.
  • Supporting documents related to income eligible for tax treaty benefits.
  • Registration documents of the head office and branch, if applicable.

Application process

  • Gather all required documentation.
  • Submit the application and documents to the competent tax authority.
  • Processing time is usually 10 business days but can be shorter in some regions.
  • Prepare the necessary documentation.
  • Submit through the head office to the competent tax authority.
  • Processing time ranges from 10 to 20 business days, depending on complexity.

Additional information

  • Service channels: Applications can be processed at tax service halls or via the E-tax bureau's online service. The availability of services like mobile or WeChat access may vary.
  • Processing authority: The competent tax authorities are responsible for processing applications.
  • Processing time: The tax authority aims to process applications within 10 working days for standard cases. The timeframe for applications requiring review by a higher authority extends to 20 working days.
  • Fees: The application process is free of charge.

The procedural steps to acquire a Certificate of Tax Residency generally follow a standard framework across China. However, regional tax authorities may implement specific requirements or offer additional channels for application submission. For instance, certain regions might provide more robust online services, enabling a smoother and faster application process, while others may rely more heavily on in-person submissions at local tax service halls.

Processing times for the Certificate of Tax Residency can vary markedly from one region to another. This variance often reflects the operational capacity of local tax offices and the volume of applications they handle. For example:

  • Shanghai: As a major financial and commercial hub, Shanghai's tax authorities are well-equipped with resources and systems to handle applications efficiently. Applicants in Shanghai might experience relatively quick processing times, benefiting from the city's advanced infrastructure and administrative efficiency.
  • Shandong Province: In contrast, Shandong Province has demonstrated an exceptionally expedited process for standard applications. The Shandong Provincial Tax Service, under the State Taxation Administration, has pledged to process standard applications within just 3 business days, and complex cases requiring further review within 7 business days. This commitment to swift processing times showcases regional efforts to streamline administrative procedures and enhance service delivery.

Tips for applicants

  • Ensure all documents are complete and comply with legal requirements to facilitate a single visit to the tax authority.
  • Branches and partnerships should apply through the head office or the Chinese resident partner.
  • If there are special format requirements for the Tax Resident Certificate by the tax treaty's other contracting party, provide a written explanation and the required format.

Global tax implications for expatriates and multinational companies

Obtaining a Certificate of Tax Residency in China carries significant implications for the global tax obligations of expatriates and multinational companies. This certification not only determines one's tax status within China but also influences tax liabilities and planning on a global scale. Understanding these implications and strategically coordinating with tax authorities and professionals can lead to substantial benefits.

Impact on Global Tax Obligations

Tax residency status determines how individuals are taxed on their worldwide income in a particular country. For expatriates living in China, obtaining tax residency status means that they might be subject to Chinese tax on their global income, necessitating a careful examination of tax treaties between China and their home countries to avoid double taxation. Similarly, multinational companies with operations in China need to understand how their tax residency status influences their tax obligations in other jurisdictions where they operate.

Coordination with home country tax authorities

Effective coordination with tax authorities in one's home country is crucial for expatriates and multinational companies. This involves reporting their tax residency status in China and understanding the implications for their home country's tax liabilities. For example, tax treaties may provide relief from double taxation, but leveraging these benefits often requires presenting the Certificate of Tax Residency to the relevant tax authorities and complying with specific reporting requirements.

Consulting tax professionals

Given the complexity of international tax laws and the potential for significant financial impact, consulting with tax professionals is highly advisable. Tax advisors can guide you in navigating dual tax obligations and optimizing tax strategies under various international treaties. They can assist in preparing documentation, claiming treaty benefits, and ensuring compliance with both Chinese and home country tax regulations.

Professional services firms, such as Dezan Shira & Associates, specialize in assisting expatriates and multinational companies with their tax planning and compliance needs in China and across Asia. These firms offer a range of services, including:

  • Tax planning and compliance advice
  • Assistance with obtaining Certificates of Tax Residency
  • Guidance on tax treaty benefits
  • Support in coordinating with home country and Chinese tax authorities

Key takeaways

  • Whether you're an expatriate or representing a multinational company, understanding the specific eligibility criteria, and preparing the required documentation is the first step towards obtaining tax residency certification.
  • The process and timeframes for obtaining the Certificate can vary across different regions in China. Being aware of these differences can help you plan and expedite your application.
  • Achieving tax residency status in China has far-reaching implications for your or your company's global tax obligations. It's crucial to navigate these with an eye on international tax treaties and home country regulations to optimize tax liabilities.
  • Given the complexities of tax laws and the potential for significant financial impacts, seeking advice from tax professionals is beneficial and essential for ensuring compliance and optimizing your tax strategy.


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